Santo Spirito is our favorite piazza and quartiere, neighborhood, and the area we like to stay. Named for Brunelleschi’s last church which stands with an unadorned facade in the piazza, Santo Spirito is one part of Oltrarno, the area across the Arno from the historic center.
The movie and musical Light in the Piazza uses the Santo Spirito church profile in the set.
(Editor’s Note: I wrote the following around 2010. I wonder if it is the same.) Weekdays start with produce booths arranged around the center and household goods and clothes sold from booths at the south end. Church bells announce a service at Santo Spirito church.
There’s an “Antiquarian Market” one weekend per month, and an “Herbs and Tools Market” another—most likely the 2nd & 3rd Sunday of each month, but not in August. I’m not clear about the winter months.
We remember one day when the home goods market was set up as usual, a television soap was being filmed in another corner, and a student demonstration filled the church porch and steps!
If you have time for a visit to Piazza Santo Spirito:
Caffè Ricchi serves a well-regarded cappuccino and good gelato. Giny read that Faith Willinger, known for her books including Eating in Italy and for her cooking classes, is a regular here. In The Monster of Florence, Douglas Preston’s real-life investigation and adventure begins at Bar Ricchi. The interior eating area is adorned with fantasized images of the unadorned front of Santo Spirito church, images inspired by local resident and artist Mario Mariotti’s 1980 art project consisting of amazing projections onto the church’s facade.
Put together a picnic in the shops along Via Serragli and come back to the piazza, where the likely vantage point is the steps in front of the church. There are also a couple of benches and the fountain.
Casalinga, at Via Michelozzi 9/r, makes it into many guidebooks as a reasonably priced trattoria. I like it best at lunchtime—it’s just off the piazza heading east from the front corner of the church. The link is in Italian, as is the menu, but you’ll probably recognize many of the items.
Cabiria Café opens up for lunch, and is a favorite pre-dinner aperitivo spot. For dinner, Borgo Antico is humming, and the other restaurants try to match the buzz. At night and until the wee hours, the church steps are a popular, sometimes raucous, hangout.
Santo Spirito church, dome-builder Brunelleschi’s last design and completed after his death, is open most days. The Santo Spirito church has a cenacolo, dining room, with a varied but interesting display and, on the wall, an Orcagna fresco. I wish I could be clear on when the Cenacolo is open, perhaps only on Saturdays. The cenacolo’s Fondazione Romano collection of 11th century sculptures and fragments is often described as haphazard; I love these kind of peculiar groupings, the collected work has heart and often reflects pre-Renaissance times.
On the piazza’s southeast corner is a palazzo featuring an upstairs porch, a loggia. Earlier house forms required a defensive front, but this was built at a time of changing needs and styles, and was a prime example of what would become a common feature throughout Europe.
You may spot a low-relief sculpture on the east side of the piazza commemorating the site of the death of WWII partisans.